Tulum vs Cozumel: Tulum and Cozumel are two of the premier tourist destinations on the Riviera Maya. Both offer beautiful tropical beaches, great weather, nightlife, and a wealth of interesting activities, tours, and excursions. However, there are some significant differences between the two destinations. If you are considering Tulum vs Cozumel for your next vacation, here is what you should take into account before making your decision.
Mayan ruins of Tulum, Playa Paraíso, Playa Ruinas, Laguna Kaan Luum, Punta Laguna Nature Reserve, cenotes, swimming, snorkeling, ATV tours, mezcal tasting, golf
Snorkeling and scuba diving at barrier reef sites, relaxing and swimming on beautiful beaches of Playa Chen Rio, Playa Punta Morena, Playa san Juan, and more. Mini Submarine Tours, whale shark tours, sailing, windsurfing, fishing, paddleboarding
Food and Drink
Excellent Mexican food, great international options. Fine dining at the all-inclusive resorts
Great Mexican restaurants, open air eateries in beachfront settings, great international options, fine dining at beachfront resorts.
Low-cost hostels and hotels, all-inclusive resorts, boutique hotels and international chains, and villas for rent, all concentrated in the beachfront "Hotel Zone"
Wide range of accommodations throughout the island, from luxury all inclusive resorts and beachfront boutique hotels, to hostels and rental condos
Best way to get to Tulum is to fly into Cancun, then take a bus or rent a car to drive to Tulum. The drive takes about 90 minutes
Cozumel International Airport recieves flights from some major US/Canadian cities (see "Accessibility" section below) but it may be more convenient to fly into Cancun, then take a small plane from Cancun to Cozumel. This flight takes 15 minutes.
78.3 °F average annual temperature. Tropical dry climate, with long dry season followed by rainy season from June/July - October
Cozumel has a tropical savanna climate, with a dry season February to April followed by a long rainy season. Average temperature is 77.9 °F
Tulum and Cozumel are both located on a 100-mile section of Mexico’s eastern Yucatan Peninsula, known as the Riviera Maya. Tulum’s known history goes back to 1200 AD, when it became the site of a thriving Mayan town, whose ruins remain in the area today, and are a major tourist attraction. Cozumel is an island located about 40 miles north of Tulum. Cozumel is the site of some Maya ruins as well, but the main attraction on the island is the scuba diving and snorkeling sites located just off its coast, which are said to be some of the nicest in the world.
Up until the early 1970s, the Riviera Maya was largely undeveloped, and tourism to Tulum and Cozumel was nonexistent, with only small fishing villages in the area. Throughout the 70s, the Mexican federal government began investing significant funds into developing the area, seeing an opportunity to attract tourists with resort cities on the country’s east coast, similar to the already thriving resort cities on the west coast, like Acapulco and Mazatlan.
By the 80s and 90s, the Riviera Maya had seen significant development, and Tulum and Cozumel had become significant tourist attractions.
Attractions and Activities
Today, visitors flock to Tulum mainly to see the Mayan ruins that are located in the city. Tulum’s old city is surrounded by a stone wall. Built by the Mayans’ the wall stands 10-16 feet in different places, and protects the main ruins within. There are three major structures still standing in Tulum, all located in the same area, easily within walking distance. The three structures, El Castillo, the Temple of the Frescoes, and the Temple of the Descending God, are also all within a couple minutes of Tulum’s Hotel Zone.
El Castillo (the castle) is the largest structure, dominating the site at 25 feet tall. This pyramid-like structure lies just feet from the nearby cliff that leads down to the ocean. El Castillo aligns almost perfectly with a breakpoint in the barrier reef surrounding Tulum’s shores, and it is believed that the pyramid once served as a sort of “lighthouse” to guide trading canoes safely into the city.
The Temple of the Frescoes is a two story structure located almost directly in front of El Castillo. The temple is believed to have been both a place of worship and a sort of observatory for the Mayans to track the movement of the sun and other celestial bodies. It is covered in frescos showing gods and goddesses, flowers, animals, and crops.
The third structure, the Temple of the Descending God, is a one room building with a staircase leading up to its entrance. Its name is derived from a stone carving directly above the main entrance that depicts a god positioned upside down. This god is called the “Descending God” or “Diving God” and other sculptures and carvings of him can be found on other ruins in Tulum. What this god represents is unclear, but some archeologists believe that he may be Ah-Muzen-Cab, a Mayan tutelary of bees and honey.
Aside from the historical sites, Tulum is famous for its beautiful, Caribbean beaches. The beaches in Tulum are long, with soft white sands and palm trees. The nicest beaches in the city include:
Playa Paraíso: North of the hotel zone in Tulum. One of the nicest beaches in the whole Riviera Maya. Calm waters, warm sands, and rarely overcrowded despite being one of the more popular beaches in the area.
Playa Ruinas: As the name implies, this beach is located right by the ruins of Tulum. Playa Ruinas is a scenic Caribbean beach, with palm trees and turquoise waters, and is a great place to relax before or after visiting the ruins.
Las Palmas Public Beach: One of Tulum’s more secluded beaches, located 3 miles from the ruins.
Other popular attractions and activities in Tulum include ATV and buggy tours of the jungle, day trips to the local underwater caves and swimming holes, called cenotes; mezcal tasting tours and food tours; and watersports, including snorkeling and scuba diving, paddleboarding, kayaking and canoeing, kiteboarding, sailing, and golfing.
The biggest attraction on Cozumel is its scuba diving and snorkeling sites. Cozumel is widely considered one of the best destinations in the world for diving, and it has sites and dive groups that cater to divers of all experience levels. You can also get certified to scuba dive at one of the acclaimed diving schools on the island, even if you have never dived before.
The main dive sites in Cozumel are part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, the second largest reef system in the world, stretching over 700 miles, from the northern Yucatan Peninsula, to the coast of Honduras. The reef system is home to dozens of species of coral and hundreds of species of fish and other marine wildlife, including sea turtles, sponges, and even manatee. From May to September, migratory whale sharks also frequent the reef.
For those interested in exploring the reefs but not willing to go snorkeling or diving, Cozumel also has plenty of glass-bottomed boat tours that will take you to the reefs to watch the schools of fish under your feet. You can also rent clear kayaks to explore the reefs yourself.
Playa Chen Rio: Very calm beach with on duty lifeguards. Great for swimming, and perfect for kids and families.
Playa Punta Morena: A secluded beach on Cozumel’s eastern coast. Rougher wates, but still good for swimming, surfing, and relaxing on the shore.
Playa san Juan: Very popular beach. Calm waters, and plenty of watersports, like windsurfing available. Great for families, but can get crowded.
A new attraction that has quickly become extremely popular is Mini Submarine Tours. Participants in these tours are given an underwater scooter with an air tank and helmet full of air, that they can use to travel underwater at the reefs. These tours are perfect for non-divers and non-snorkelers to explore Cozumel’s most popular sites.
Other popular attractions include boating whale shark tours, sailing, windsurfing, paddleboarding, kayaking and canoeing, deep sea fishing, shopping, hiking, and the nightlife.
Casa del Sol: Hostel with a breakfast area, rooftop terrace, and snorkel gear and bike rentals available.
Playa Condesa: Waterfront accommodations located less than two miles from the ruins.
Kore Tulum Retreat and Spa Resort: Adults only all inclusive boutique hotel. Located on the beachfront, with quick access to the ruins, nearby cenotes, golf courses, and parks.
Dreams Tulum Resort & Spa: Beachfront resort with beautiful views of the ocean, luxury suites, pools, adults-only sections, and easy access to the ruins.
Playaakun: Luxury oceanfront villa located 30 minutes from ruins and 30 minutes from the most popular cenotes.
Caribo Cozumel Guest House: Small hotel located a block from the beach. Nice rooms and a pool.
Hotel Posada Edem: Small hotel, centrally located with nice suites, terraces, and a leisure area.
Occidental Allegro Resort: Luxury beachfront resort with a private dock, direct access to the beach, three restaurants, and a swim up bar.
El Cid La Ceiba Beach Hotel: Beachfront resort on the southern end of the island. Has raised pools, a gourmet restaurant, and snorkeling and diving.
The easiest way to get to Tulum or Cozumel is via Cancun International Airport. The airport receives frequent direct flights from most major US and Canadian cities, so getting there should be no problem. Once you land in Cancun, if you are going to Cozumel, you have two options. You can either take a taxi or bus to the port city of Playa del Carmen, which takes about 45 minutes, then take a ferry from Playa del Carmen to Cozumel. Or you can take a small plane from Cancun’s airport directly to Cozumel International Airport. The flight takes about 15 minutes.
It is also possible to fly direct to Cozumel International Airport depending on what city you are leaving from and when you are going. Atlanta, Dallas, Houston. Minneapolis, Miami, Charlotte, Denver, Toronto, and Montreal all have flights to Cozumel International Airport.
Tulum on the other hand, is about an hour and 30 minute drive from Cancun International Airport.
An important factor when comparing Tulum vs Cozumel is the cost of each. A week in Tulum costs approximately $1,890 USD per person. Cozumel costs around $1,217 USD per person per week.
The Bottom Line
If you are considering Tulum vs Cozumel for your next vacation, there is no wrong choice. The better choice for you will depend mainly on what you are interested in doing and what your budget is. If you are interested in seeing Mayan ruins and historical sites, relaxing on the beach, and swimming in the refreshing Caribbean waters, then Tulum is the better destination for you. One the other hand, if you want to spend you trip snorkel, scuba diving, exploring the reefs, and engaging in other fun waterfront activities, while also saving some money, Cozumel is the better choice.